German Shepherd Not Listening Part One

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get compensated if you buy through these links – this is at no extra cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here.

Why is my German Shepherd not listening?

Have you ever asked yourself that question?

It’s a question all German Shepherd owners ask.

And it’s one I regularly answer emails about.

In short, the answer is over-stimulation impulse control…

Any situation where your dog is over-stimulated is stressful.  For both you and your GSD.

For example…

  • When you have to wait outside at the vet to avoid other dogs.
  • At the park, you feel like a snow sleigh moving at 100 miles p/h behind a pack of dogs.
  • Having visitors over consists mainly of you apologizing for your unruly dog.

Granted, these are extreme scenarios.  Your German Shepherd might ignore a sit, down, or come command.  

In this case, you’d work differently to resolve the issue.  I’ll share ways to work with this in a separate article.

In these extreme scenarios, you’re trying to get your dog’s attention.  But you get…

Zip, nothing, and nada.

It’s in these moments you’ll find yourself asking that question…

“Why is my German Shepherd not listening?”

And “what can I do about it?”

I hate to be a kill-joy…

But it’s important for you to know that you’ll never stop over-stimulation for good.

But with patience and careful planning, you can do something about impulse control

Even in super exciting situations.

So before we get to the training plan to learn and teach this new and valuable skill…

I’ll just go into some detail about what goes on in your dog’s head when he’s just not listening.

Get this right, you’ll get inside your German Shepherd’s head.  It won’t only help to calm any situation.

It will definitely open up your training sessions.

Pushed to The Limits

Your dog has a threshold.  It’s his level of tolerance for certain things.

It’s the level between calm and relaxed and out of control.

Out of control could be excitement, fear, aggression, anxiety, etc.

Think of his threshold on a scale from 1 to 10.  1 being asleep and 10 being totally out of control.

The optimal threshold is somewhere between 2 and 4 or 5, that’s when your dog is calm, relaxed and it’s easy to get his focus.

6 and up is total over-stimulation.

According to Mardi Richmond in the Whole Dog Journal – your dog moves from one emotional state to another.  This is called crossing the threshold.

This is also a brilliant article about a dog named Daisy and her owner Mel.  And how they both worked to raise her thresholds.

Click – Click, Bang!

My German Shepherd is not ListeningYour GSD also has a trigger.

Triggers are the things that cause a reaction in your dog.

Triggers raise your dog’s threshold.

They can be things like other dogs, people, toys, play, sounds, and chaos, etc.

So, for example…

Your GSD sees another dog – that’s the trigger.

Suddenly there’s a low growl in the back of his throat.  His hackles are raised and he’s staring.


That’s him moving through the scales of his threshold.  His reaction will depend on how strong the trigger is.

At this point, you could dangle a medium-rare steak in front of your pooch and you won’t get his attention.

I found this excellent visual resource online which explains the process perfectly.

Credit to Behavet and Tom Mitchell for this graphic.

A Dog's Threshold Explained

Now you’re wondering what to do with this new information and how to apply it to training your GSD…

Here’s how I think you can work with your dog and teach him to control his threshold…

Impulse Control

In essence, you are going to teach impulse control.

I’ll get to that later.


Teach Focus - German Shepherd Not ListeningThe first step is to teach your GSD to focus when you ask for it…

Start someplace with very little distraction.

Later, you’ll move to more challenging scenarios with more distractions.

Dogs are context-bound.  Understanding this is another secret to building a solid dog-owner relationship.

Context-bound means your GSD will sit 98% of the time in the kitchen.  But, only 65% of the time in the lounge.

You counter this by only moving to a new area once your dog is reliable with the behavior.

No-force, positive reinforcement training is the best way to teach a dog anything.


Whether you use a clicker or a verbal marker stick to it.  I have written an article about clicker/marker training here.

It Won’t Come Cheap

You’ll need high value treats for this training.

I know you’re thinking, “why can’t I use regular treats?”

You’ll use it in high energy situations.

So, you really need him to be 100% reliable when you ask for focus.

If you want to know how to get your dog to show you which treats are most valuable to him, check out my article on Dog Learning here.

It’s long, so just skip to the part headed The Power of Food in Dog Learning.

5 Easy Steps to Teach Your Dog How to Focus

Here’s How You Do It…

  • Get him into a sit and let him know you have a treat in your hand – he’ll stay focused on the treat.
  • Move your hand up to your face between your eyes.  He’ll watch your treat hand like a hawk.

I use my index and middle fingers pointing at my eyes.

  • Let your eyes lock with your dog’s and immediately mark the eye contact with a reward.

The signal you use here is important because it’s the hand signal for focus when there are no treats.

So pick a signal that’s comfortable for you and stick with it.

A bonus to a reliable focus is, your dog will start looking to you for guidance in a situation he is unsure of.

Add The Cue

Adding a Cue - German Shepherd Not Listening

The word you choose is the sound your dog will understand to mean all-eyes-on-you.

So don’t change it.

If you do, your dog will never learn what you want from him.

I use ‘look at me’.  But it could be ‘look’, ‘focus’, or anything else.

Gauge your GSD’s progress.  And only add a cue when he’s reliable.

Each dog is different but I’d say within 4 training sessions he’ll have grasped the behavior.

Work on duration

For example…

Treat him only after 3 seconds of eye contact.

Then 5 seconds.

Then 7 seconds.

Then 10 seconds.

Go slow over the period of a week or so.

If he gives you 3 seconds on a 5-second training session, Go back to 3 seconds for the rest of the session.

Taking baby steps or a few steps back is not a failure.

It’s setting your dog up for success.

Oh, and don’t forget to work on distance too.

Fade the Treats

When this focus and duration are reliable. Start fading the rewards.

In the article on Dog Learning, there is a section on fading treats it’s under the heading Reinforcement Schedules.

Generalize in Different Scenarios

Challenge your GSD by moving to different rooms with more distractions. Move outside when he’s reliable.

Generalize in as many different places as you can.

Counter Conditioning and Desensitizing

This part of the training plan is important.

In essence, your dog will learn that good things happen when they are around or in something stressful.

This is the impulse control I mentioned earlier.  Read about Counter Conditioning and Desensitization here.

In the article, there’s a very helpful visual description of counter conditioning.

It works great for fearful, reactive, and over-excited dogs.

Putting it all Together

Ideally, you want your dog to be desensitized and calm in as many situations as possible.

But, like us humans…

This is not always possible.  You and your pooch will come across people, dogs, and situations you don’t like.

So here’s the scenario…Generalize Training - German Shepherd Not Listening

You visit the local dog park for a game of fetch.

And you come across an abrasive dog that instantly rubs your GSD up the wrong way.

If your dog reacts, you both have the focus skill mastered!

Now you can easily draw his attention to you and nip the tension in the bud.

Just a few more points to motivate you, the trainer…

  • Start small.
  • Gradually increase difficulty.
  • Flow with the session.  Change this up if you notice your dog checking out.
  • Give ‘jackpot’ treats for excellent work.  It builds motivation.
  • Acknowledge small victories.
  • Be consistent, for several weeks if necessary.

I hope this solution answers your question, “why is my German Shepherd not listening?”

Feel free to leave your thoughts, questions, and specific scenarios you may be struggling with, in the comments below.

Is your dog jumping up on you and your guests? Learn how to teach your dog not to jump in a positive way.

Do you know how to break up a dog fight? Learn how to safely and quickly break up a dog fight.

Use these 5 tips to manage your training sessions like a pro.

Enter your name & email below and hit ‘Get Updates’. It’s Free!
I promise to not use your email for spam! I’ll send out a few emails a week and occasional promo emails too.

About the author: Gabriella is a certified professional dog trainer with the Victoria Stilwell Academy. She has a special passion for teaching GSD guardians to train their dogs with kindness and clarity using positive reinforcement methods without force, pain, or fear. Join “Dog Speak” for free dog training tips and advice from a professional dog trainer.

  • tina

    Hi there, We have a (for the most part) a very gentle loving 13 month old gsd. He like most is very smart but i think he has very selective hearing to being obedient. He knows all the basic commands. He does very well when he knows there is a treat. Problem is he tends to ignore commands such as come or lets go when he doesnt see a treat. Even when we take him out for his pee or just a walk often he lays down..he is a beautiful lawn ornament..) but getting him to get up and move to continue his walk sometimes takes 15 minutes or longer. Sometimes i have to go through many treats to motivate him to move. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Hi Tina,

      Thanks for your questions.

      What you’ve described is something that I often see when luring-reward is used as a main form of training. Especially when the lure (food or toy) is not faded quickly, it ends up that the dog will only choose to do the behavior if there is a reward or if the reward is high enough in value.

      Feel free to reach out to me via email and I’ll be happy to set up a call to chat about strategies you can use to switch things up to motivate your boy without having to constantly rely on treats or toys.

    • tina

      Hi there . thank you for response. I do not see anywhere where I can send you email. Can you reply to my email where I can provide a contact number to speak to you directly regarding this issue and more.

      thank you

    • Hi Tina.

      I’m going to send you an email and you can reply to me directly. That way we can chat about a suitable time to talk more in-depth.

    • tina

      Hi Gabriella:
      thanks for your website But we need more help…(
      Our dog has now turned 15 months old and in the last month he has been showing signs of aggression to our 10 year old son. When the boy comes into the room (whether from outside or another room) dog appears timid around him, puts his fur up, lets out a quiet growl. He moves away from him and then gives a dead stare. recently, yesterday he let out his first real growl. He only does this to our grandson. Grandson doesnt provoke him or anything. It seems it is just his presence that sets off dog. Prior to about month ago the dog displayed no aggresion and only affection towards the child. Any idea why he is doing this and how do we correct this. thank you

    • Hi Tina,

      I’ve sent you an email so you can reply directly to me.

      It does sound like this situation might require more in-depth information and potentially a specialist trainer who works with aggression cases.

      But let’s chat via email, and I’ll be happy to refer you to someone if it’s required.

  • George

    I have an 11 month old GSD. I am struggling with recall. My yard is fenced in. He is running loose. If he is not preoccupied there are not many issues. The problem is when he is playing or distracted. He totally ignores me.

    • Hi George,

      Thank you for reaching out here with your situation.

      It’s not uncommon for dogs to begin to “ignore” recalls as they mature and become more independent. And it’s definitely something that can be worked on through games and relationship building.

      I highly recommend checking out a dog training program I have used for several years for all my pups and rescues. It’s unique because it uses games to build a close relationship that encourages our dogs to regularly check in with us. It also helps teach them the behaviors we want more of through fun games. This method teaches problem-solving skills as well as fluency in the behaviors we want to see more of.

      I’ve written extensively about the program and my experiences in this article. Once you and your boy have completed the program you’ll both have irreplaceable skills to take forward into your future training.

      I hope this helps set you both on the path to happy training!

      Feel free to reach out with any other questions you have, I’m always around and happy to help! 🙂

  • Savannah

    I have been really struggling with walking my dog recently. He never used to pull too much or not listen to recall off the lead (I rarely take him off now because he just isn’t listening when I call him back). He’s 7 months old and recently he’s pulling pretty much the entire wall. I have tried everything. I’ve tried stopping like a statue when he pulls and then carrying on walking when he pulls. If he still pulls wen I’m standing still I walk in the opposite direction. If he just keeps pulling around in circles I get him to stop completely and sit. When he’s walking in heel position and not pulling I reward him with praise and high reward meat treats but he still continues to pull contstantly.

    I’m also very frequently finding myself being pulled after other dogs and once he starts running towards them I can’t get him to stop and he runs at full speed. Today it was bad he pulled me over and I fell, dropping his lead in the process.
    When I try and get him to give me his attention and to sit and wait so I don’t get dragged along he just completely ignores me. I really don’t know what else to do. I’m trying everything all the training guides tell me to and nothing seems to be working.

    I’ve been doing attention training with him for weeks. We started as a puppy and have tried to keep up with it but it’s like he’s just completely forgotten all of his training. If there is literally anything else around him on a walk he just will not give me his attention and starts trying to pull me towards where he wants to go.

    • Hi Savannah,

      Thanks for your comment and question.

      The experience you’re having is likely due to a combination of a phase as he matures but I’d say more so a need for more training and proofing of the behaviors like loose leash walking.

      It’s not uncommon for young pups to choose to be close to their human on walks and not pay much attention to other dogs. And once they begin maturing, this natural inclination fades away and is replaced by something the human is not used to.

      The first thing I’d recommend is to halt walks for now so that you can prevent him from practicing the behaviors he’s displaying. The more he practices them, the more ingrained they’ll become. So so the time being, keep to outside time in your yard where you can work on training and proofing the behaviors you want without the distractions that are causing him to pull and ignore recalls.

      Then I’d recommend using an online training program that uses games to teach our dogs to choose to do more of the behaviors we want. Using games is a great way to really teach these behaviors in a fun way. And for dogs, when we’re fun, they tend to choose to be near us, check-in with us, and respond to recalls.

      You may have already trained a lot of behaviors, so some of this program may seem redundant but from my experience, it’s sometimes worth retraining behaviors to get our dogs to be really invested in choosing the behaviors we want. The behaviors in the program may also seem as though they are not connected to specifics like loose leash walking and recall. But as I mentioned, when we’re fun and our dogs are invested in us, this is a skill that spills over into all areas of their lives and the choices they make.

      I’ve written about my experiences with the program and my opinions in this article. And I believe this way of training is essential to teaching our dogs important life skills and encourage them to make the right choices.

      I hope this helps to get him back on track and making your walks fun again.

      I’m always around so feel free to reach out anytime. 🙂

  • Kris Bodas

    Should u knee your dog in chest I’f it doesn’t listen or quit jumping on people. AMD I’d running g outside without Permian do you grab by back leg and pull back and pull

    • Hi Kris,

      Both of those methods are wholly inappropriate to work with a dog. They don’t teach a dog what you’d like them to do instead and I’d venture as far as saying these methods are abusive. Please don’t do these things to your dog. Dogs are highly intelligent and can actually be trained using force-free methods.

      If you’re interested in finding out how you can teach your dog not to jump, you can read this article for training tips and advice.

      If you would like to learn about force-free training methods and teach your dog what you’d like them to do instead of the unwanted behavior in a fun way, then check out this online dog training program.

  • Victoria Johnson

    Hi Gabriella,

    I have a 3 year old GSD and he knows simple commands for the most part. I am at home with him all day but he tends to not listen to me as well as he does with my husband. At times he does growl at me and gets defensive when I try to take things away from him. I also have a 16 month old son at home with me and he doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him and freaks out everytime I give the baby more attention than him. He is very jelous to say the least.

    I am currently pregnant with our second child and want to try and snip this behavior in the butt. Do you have any suggestions on how to help with this??

    Also, he is neutered but seems to act so clueless and wild at times when I ask him to do certain things and he’s also really bad on a leash. I am trying my best to get him to listen amd obey me but NOTHING seems to work. He usually tends to ignore me or do the complete opposite of what I ask of him.

    We got him because we were hoping to have a good protective family dog, but I am struggling with training him still and getting his respect and obedience towards me.

    Anything helps!!

    • Hi Victoria,

      Thank you for your comment and questions.

      Sounds like you’re spinning a lot of plates at the moment. And at the same time, you’re dealing with a doggo that’s going through an adolescent phase. It can be tough when they go from the sweet pup that just wants to please to an independent young adult. But with a few changes in strategy you can help your boy through this phase and into a more calm and co-operative adult.

      Since you’ve got your hands full with a young toddler and currently pregnant, I do recommend firstly putting management systems in place for when you or your husband are not able to directly supervise your GSD around your toddler. Sectioning off a part of your home with baby gates is ideal to keep your GSD as part of the family where he can see and hear everything. This is not about isolation, but rather just management.

      Then I highly recommend starting to give him more mental stimulation through training him using games. Games are a unique way to tap into our dog’s natural intelligence, teaching them what we want and at the same time building a deeper bond and stimulating them fully.

      I’ve used an online training program for this exact reason. It was designed by a dog trainer and has worked wonders for all my dogs including my more difficult rescues.

      I’ve written extensively about the program and my experiences, and you can read about the program here. I think following it at home will help since I’m sure getting to a dog training class is a bit of a juggle right now. And I believe it will provide your boy with the stimulation and gentle guidance he needs while cementing the bond between the two of you.

      You are more than welcome to drop me any questions about the program or if you get stuck while working through it, shoot me an email by using the email address here.

      Chat soon,

  • Sue

    Thank you so much for your input, I will most definitely try some things out. Sadly, hes never had any toys ( of course I go get him some), he doesnt know how to fetch, play tug of war etc. I did the eye thing to get his focus on only me, and dang he did it for 10 seconds( but we were inside…lol). Again thank you!! Did I miss your email address, cause if I have any other questions I will contact you.

    • Hi Sue,

      My email address can be found on this page. Just replace the [at] in the email address with the @ sign. 🙂

      Nice going on teaching focus! You’re definitely on the right track by starting the training inside since there are way less distractions. Maybe shorten the length of time he focuses before offering a reward, like start with rewarding as soon as he looks, then after a few repetitions go to 2 seconds, then 4 seconds then 6 seconds etc. This way you’ll set him up for success. Dogs, like humans, don’t like failing and if they fail too often they lose interest.

      If you’re looking for safe toys to chew on, check out this article for my recommendations. Our favorites here are the Goughnuts range. They are super-duper tough.

      If you’re looking for tug toys, you can see my personal recommendations here, we love the Red Line range.

      I’ll do a write up of how to teach a dog to play fetch, you’re giving me lots of inspiration! 🙂

      Feel free to drop me an email any time. I’m around most of the time!

    • Dawna

      I have a male GSD. He just turned 18 months old. He has an extremely high ball drive, food is ok. I can get him to do many things for a specific treat, BUT when we are outside his interest in treats has diminished. My question is about heeling on leash.
      He has progressed greatly where he is not pulling me like a sleigh, but his head and shoulder are forward of my knee. That’s issue #1. My second issue – I hike a lot. I have always hiked alone with my dog. My husband does not like to hike, and I’ve just begun taking my GSD on trails. Husband wants to tag along while I’m training my dog. This issue is – GSD & I take off on a trail at a great pace, hubby lags far behind at a slow stroll. GSD is constantly looking back and all around trying to keep the pack together. Should I have hubby stroll in another location or stay home until my GSD realizes hubby is not part of our hike?

    • Hi Dawna,

      Thanks for the excellent questions! 🙂

      So since your boy is a high ball drive dog, what about using his ball as a reward instead of treats? Some dogs are fascinated by the environment and it’s up to us to find the reward that’s going to keep them engaged.

      So for heeling, try holding the ball in the hand of the side you’d like him to heel on. Keep the ball above his head and let him see the ball but not able to reach it. If he’s as ball driven as my girl Lexi, he won’t take his eyes off the ball. Although you may have to keep him on the leash to ensure he doesn’t try to run ahead as he would in a game of fetch.

      Once he’s done a few steps of heeling in the right position release him to a game of fetch. Once he’s retrieved it, rinse and repeat.

      Let me know if this works for you.

      As for hubs, your boy is not likely to grasp that hubby is not part of the hike. But you could try to make the hike more interesting than looking back. Again maybe working in one of his favorite games/toys.

  • Sue

    I gave a question. Before I ask let me say thank you so much for this site. I rescued a GS, he turned 2 in June. I have taught him to sit, lay, up. I am working with him to stay, and walk next to me. I live in a RV park, the squirrels, the frogs in the early morning, and 2 roaming cats, is over stimulating him. He gets so distracted by what I just mentioned. But we still plug away. So far, he is not a Barker, he doesn’t jump up on anyone. He is very cautious of people, quite timid around other dogs. His up bringing was being very neglected, and always having to fight a pit bull for food. He is not the least bit aggressive when it comes to food with me. My question is I am having a real difficult time when we do go outside with his distraction. I have had him almost 3 months so am Leary of letting him off the leash, so sadly the leash is his bathroom break and his play break…I think I am confusing him, esp when I am trying to train him to walk beside me. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Sue!

      Thank you for your comment and questions. I’m pleased the site has been helpful for you!

      How exciting it must be to be living in an RV! It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing – maybe one day I will!

      Okay, so it sounds like you’re pretty in-tune with your boy already which is excellent and something you can capitalize on to help him become calm in his environment.

      Although keeping him on-leash is not what you want, for now, and until he’s 100% reliable, it’s the best thing for him and for your peace of mind. So don’t worry too much about him being only on-leash, the upsides to his life far outweigh the restriction of a leash. He’s got oodles of love, he doesn’t have to fight for his food and he’s no longer neglected. And, he’s got an owner who’s his number one fan and supporter. This is all any doggo wants!

      You could perhaps consider a long-leash if you want to give him more roaming room and still keep him close. These are also excellent tools to train for a recall. Check out this one on Amazon, you can choose a length anywhere from 15 to 100 feet.

      I’ve been meaning to write an article on how to teach loose-leash walking and now you’ve given me the inspiration I needed! I’ll do a write-up of the games you can play to teach loose-leash walking (and staying close to you) and drop a link here when it’s done so you can check it out.

      Now for the distractions and timidness…

      Reactions to distractions like frogs, squirrels, cats and even the timidness towards people and other dogs are down to a lack of socialization.

      Unfortunately, the optimal period for socialization closes at around 4.5 months of age. But that doesn’t mean your boy can’t learn to be chilled and confident in these situations.

      For older dogs learning to adjust, I recommend counter-conditioning and desensitizing training.

      To begin with, try to avoid getting so close to the distraction where your boy feels need to react. As it will slow down progress. This might mean you need to turn around, retreat or take a different route.
      When your boy is close enough to the distraction but has not reacted, offer him a high-value reward (food works best for this).

      Do this religiously, every time, even if you misjudge the moment and he reacts. For this to work, the idea is that the trigger predicts the reward.

      After a while, wait and see if he looks to you saying ‘hey, where’s my treat?’

      Then mark that with a click or ‘yes’ and give him a treat. So now, the treat comes for looking to you when he sees or hears a trigger.

      Be persistent with this (it’s going to take some time) and slowly you should notice less and less reactions to his triggers.

      If it’s happening constantly (especially if he’s reacting to sounds and not a visual), you might need to consider ditching his food bowl and scatter feeding his daily food allowance instead. Like for example, early in the morning with the frogs or even the cats, scatter feed his food by literally scattering it on the ground for him to forage and eat. If you like DIY projects, check out my snuffle mat project, this is an excellent way to scatter feed. What I’d do with the snuffle mat is scatter feed his breakfast during the time that the frogs are at their most busy.

      I also recommend dipping your toes into clicker training if you haven’t already. Here’s an article to get you started, or for a refresher.

      And if you want to take your boy through a training program that will take him from pre-school to Einstein at any age, check out the dog training program I have used for all my rescues and pups. It’s unique because it uses games to tap into our dog’s natural intelligence and this then naturally spills over into their daily life. It’s a fantastic program and I highly recommend it. You can read about the program and my experiences here.

      Feel free to drop any other questions or comments here. Or if you prefer, you’re more than welcome to email me directly. I’m always around on email and happy to help.

      Chat soon,

  • Graham

    Our 11 month old female GSD Shelby, when out in the garden constantly barks at nothing!! now when we put her in our truck to take her to a friends farm for excercise she has started barking contstantly all the way there. After her play time she is quite coming home no barking. How do we control her constant barking. Is she too excited. She is very intelligent and she knows it, plus she is digging up our garden, how do we stop this.

    • Hi Graham,

      Thanks for your questions.

      We can’t always hear what our dogs are barking at. Their hearing is quite intense and they can hear sounds as low as 5 to 15dB. To put this into perspective, normal breathing is around 10dB and a ticking watch is at around 20dB.

      But this doesn’t change the fact that as owners we need to take control of unwanted barking behavior because barking is self-rewarding and can turn into unwanted behavior.

      Before she crossed over the rainbow bridge, Charley tended towards barking a lot. And Lexi, my youngest dog has this tendency too. I used the speak/quiet training to teach them both when enough is enough. Lexi still likes barking, but when I give the quiet command, she understands that it’s time to stop. So I highly recommend training Shelby to learn this. The steps I used are in the article.

      In terms of her barking in your truck… That sounds like pure excitement. The fact that she’s quiet on the way back from the farm tells me that she’s tired out and so she’s more relaxed and quiet.

      Try to burn some excess energy before getting in the truck to head out to the farm. Try something like a game of fetch or hide-and-seek. Experiment to find the time-frame it’ll take to burn enough energy so she’s quiet in the truck. For example, when I take Lexi to her hydrotherapy session I do 30 minutes of fetch first so that she’s more chilled out in the car when we leave.

      It’s totally natural for dogs to dig but no less frustrating from us when our gardens turn into a sandpit! I’ve found with my crew that providing more mental and physical stimulation prevents these kinds of unwanted behaviors. I use things like puzzle toys and snuffle mats to give them other options instead of digging. You could go as far as buying a kiddies sandpit and teaching Shelby that it’s acceptable to dig there.

      Hope this helps.

  • Emily Kaminski

    Hi, I have a 1 and a half year old german shepherd who I rescued when he was 11 months old. He is an extremely nervous dog and nothing seems to help. He barks and lunges at strangers, trying to attack them. He constantly pulls on his leash, and he knows many commands but completely ignores them. He constantly whines, excspecially when I spend any time with my other dog. He whines in his crate, on walks, in the car. He wont take treats and if I play with him outside he grabs the toy and jumps the fence.

    He has been banned for life from every grooming and training facility in my area. I’m not sure what to do.

    • Hi Emily,

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry for the delay in my reply. My dog Charley has been extremely ill and it’s taken all of my attention.

      It sounds like your pooch has extreme separation anxiety. And from what you described also resource guarding. This is very common in dogs that have been rescued. Mostly because they come from a bad past where they were either neglected or abused.

      I definitely recommend teaching the focus command in a controlled environment with no distractions as a starting point. But I also recommend getting a professional dog trainer in to work with you and your boy one-on-one.

      It sounds like a training facility has too many distractions and increases his anxiety. So if a trainer can work with you both at your home, that would be best.

      If you let me know which areas are closest to you I can help you find a good trainer.

  • Sylvain Petrari


    I have a 15 months old gsd, very smart. But he still bites not to hurt us but it still hurts. How do I stop him from having that behaviour??

    Thank you for your help,


    • Hi Sylvain!

      Thanks for your question.

      I highly recommend using play to teach bite inhibition.

      I detail these games in my article on teaching puppies not to bite. Of course these can be used with adult dogs too.

      Check it out for more details. I do recommend starting with the bridge game and then follow up with the the nose touch games. Get your boy to master these first before moving on to the other games.

      You might find that you only need the games I suggested to get the job done.

      Hope this helps.

  • Jona Falk

    I have a 11month old female German shepherd and she does not listen to me like she use to. I take her outside to go to the bathroom she does her job and when I try to get her back in the house she just looks at me and lays down I have to get my boyfriend to come out and get her what can I do.

    • Hi Jona,

      Thanks for your question.

      German Shepherds are super smart as you already know. I recommend stepping up the criteria and making things more challenging and interesting.

      I find with my crew, they will sometimes outright ignore me when I ask for something very familiar. So my solution is to change things up with the same end goal in mind.

      If she’s not listening in this situation, you could try to make the reward for coming inside a higher value. So for example, if you’re offering a kibble treat, try a cheese treat or a dehydrated liver treat instead. A toy and a short burst of play is also another option as a higher value treat.

      These steps will make you super duper interesting and that’s what you want. If you’re more interesting than laying down outside, she’s likely to follow your command and go back inside with you.

      Hope this helps.

  • Sarah


    We just got our first German Shepard pup about 3 weeks ago and she is at about 10 weeks old. We don’t expect a lot from her given she is a baby but she does not listen what so ever. She can do sit, paw, lie down, etc but she will not listen when we say come or tell her to come in when playing outside is over. She bites everything, especially pant legs as walking by, feet, hands, and more. She cries and barks at what seems to be nothing and we want to stop all of this behavior while she’s still young, please help!!

    • Hi Sarah,

      It’s tough to teach them to come when they’re playing. It’s something most pup owners struggle with. They actually don’t want us to spoil their fun!

      The key is to make yourself much more fun and interesting than wherever it is she’s doing.

      A nice training method is to call her and when she reaches you reward her with a treat and praise. The secret here is to take hold of her collar gently while praising and rewarding her. Then let her go and play again. Rinse and repeat.

      This will teach her that “hey, she’s not trying to spoil my fun!” And it’s also a great way to teach her that checking in with you is positive. This helps a lot while out on off-leash walks.

  • Brad Mitchell

    Hi, First I must say for someone who’s been owned by German Shepherds for 25 years now, you have a fantastic site!
    I’ve train all of our GS’s myself, and I so far I think I’ve done pretty well with them.
    They been well behaved in all situations. Okay, none of them liked going to the Vet.
    Our last one Sargent, 14 years old, was taught to never take any type food from anyone except myself and my wife. Even at the Vet’s he’d refuse any offerings from the staff. That was until the day we had to have him put to sleep. He had Inceptus, DM, and seizures. That day he took every treat the Vet and his staff offered him. Kinda like he knew, and figured, why not.

    Sorry I digress, well we can’t live without the patter of paws so we’ve been out looking, and found a beautiful 2 year old male, Zenzi. He’s at a GS Rescue and we’ve been told he has an extraordinary prey trait/problem. Farm animals and small children. No mention of other dogs, I’ll have to check on that.

    Granted he’s not going to see a lot of farm animals here in the suburbs, but we live less then a block from the local primary school. And most in the neighborhood walk to school right past our place. Not a good thing.
    We have a 5 foot chain link fence, but that won’t stop a determined GS.

    Maybe it’s an over active herding desire, but I don’t want to take any chances that it’s a hunting thing. I know I’m going to have to work with him to break the cycle, and I understand the break focus and reward bit. But if you have any other tips/suggestions I’m all ears.


  • Lisa hussey

    Hi Gabriella,
    I am so glad i found your website. This is my 1st GSD and she is 5 months old. I have 3 young kids as well. Just from reading this article you have shown me that she has crossed her threshold when she starts biting and nipping at the kids. What would your advice be for tackling this problem? Should i take the kids away or Sprocket. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks Lisa

    • Hi Lisa!

      Glad you’re finding value here!

      Kiddies get pups super excited! They are more similar in height, they move quickly and they have the most fun voices. All those things together are the best thing ever for a puppy!

      I recommend limiting Sprocket’s access to your kids unless you’re actively involved and only allow her to interact with one of your young ones at a time. This is not a long term strategy, but only until Sprocket has learned that your kid’s and their limbs are out of bounds when it comes to her teeth.

      During this controlled interaction I really recommend starting with bite inhibition games. I’ve written about 4 that I recommend. I don’t recommend the yelping technique anymore because it just makes pups more excieted.

      You can check out the biting games in this article.

      In terms of the games, start with the build-a-bridge game. It’s such a simple game but it’s very powerful. People often overlook how much power this game has because it’s so simple. It teaches pups to have human limbs in close proximity to their mouths without biting. You should supervise and show your children exactly how this game works and let them work with Sprocket on it one at a time.

      If she’s nipping and biting at you too, I suggest using the same game too. Leave the other 3 games for now. They will come in handy later IF there are anymore biting frenzies after she’s mastered the build-a-bridge game.

      The build-a-bridge game is especially useful to lower that threshold.

      I’m around if you have other questions.

      Also, come and join my private facebook group. You can do this by signing up for ‘Dog Speak’ and you’ll get a link in the first email to the group.

      I’m online most days to answer questions. We share our experiences and funny photos and videos of our dogs and their antics. It’s a growing community of GSD owners from all over the world and everyone has great advice and tips too.

      Hope to see you on the inside!

  • Jo Howie

    Hi Gabriella,

    Just found this website and I love it. Our GSD, Kiara, is 13 weeks and my partner’s grandma has raised them but it is my first GSD. She’s a beautiful dog. We’ve had no problems introducing her to other dogs or walking loose lead, she can focus when another dog walks past. However, we have a cat and that pushes her thresholds higher than anything. She pins the cat via the neck to the floor, which I noted is what they were trained to do to sheep. I want to break this behaviour asap before she is too big and accidently hurts the cat. Her jackpot treat is boiled chicken and the dog and cat can sit next to each other happily when I have chicken in my hand. But if I’m not watching and the cat walks/runs past she goes him and often won’t let go even if I grab the chicken. We’re trying to teach ‘leave it’ before she gets to the cat but when she’s too excited it doesn’t work. Any tips you can help with?

    • Hi Jo!

      Thanks for your question.

      It’s nice to see you have a firm grip on the triggers and thresholds! Kiara and your cat are lucky to have you!

      So I totally agree that this is something you must nip in the bud before it turns into an accident.

      I’ve go a sort guide I put together for another reader her at GSC which I’d like to email to you. It’s way too long to put in a comment. Just so I am within the privacy parameters, just give me a quick reply here and let me know it’s okay for me to use the email address you used on the site. As soon as I get the go ahead from you, I’ll send it over via email.

      Chat soon,

      P.S. I’m so pleased you love the site! 🙂

    • Joanne Howie

      The email would be fantastic thanks Gabriella 🙂

    • Hi Joanne,

      I went ahead and turned the guide into a blog post for the site. Hopefully, it’ll help other pet parents in the same boat.

      Hope you don’t mind that I quoted your question?!

      Let me know if you have questions once you get started. Just drop them in the comments on the post page.

      Here’s the link: How to Train a German Shepherd to Like Cats.

      Chat soon.

  • Hi Valentine!

    Thanks for your question.

    I’m not sure what your girl’s previous potty training experience was before she came into your life, but it sounds to me like you’ll need to potty train her.

    You can follow the tips in my article on how to potty train a German Shepherd puppy.

    Also, I recommend checking out my Flawless Potty Training Guide for German Shepherd Dogs. It’s a method I’ve used for over 10 years. And if you check out the comments on the potty training post you’ll see loads of people have had success with it too. You’ll also get direct access to me to support you along the way to getting a 100% reliable pup. Who goes where you want and lets you know when she wants.

    I hope this helps,

  • Ali


    I have a intact 7.5 month old male gsd. He is so smart and gets whatever I teach him in 3 repetitions. He knows most commands in 2 languages.

    My problem is;

    He gets over-excited when he sees another dog during our walks and starts bark at them like say ” Heeeeeyyy, I am here ” and wants to go near them, and whenever he can’t go, he starts crying and barking more.

    We started to basic obedience group class and I thought it might be helpful to train around other dogs but he still does same so trainer gave me prong collars which I am reluctant to use because I read it might lead dog aggression when he associate the pain with another dog.

    One last thing, he has defensive barking lately to other dogs who barks at him defensively as well. If other dog doesn’t bark or ignores him, he has his regular bark.

    Thanks for help already

    • Hi Ali!

      Thanks for stopping by and your comment.

      Firstly, you’re 100% correct not to use a prong collar. It can and does cause dog aggression. And if you use it to ‘fix’ this situation your boy will begin to associate other dogs with the discomfort the prong collar causes which is not good. And you’ll end up with more problems than anything else. Re-training a dog that’s dog reactive is a long road, so avoid it at all costs.

      Secondly, ditch your trainer if you want to use only force-free, kind methods. I don’t want to bad mouth your trainer as a person, but as far as training methods go, a prong collar is not the most effective way.

      So, you’ve read this article and have an understanding of triggers and thresholds. Now you’ll need to start working with your boy to teach him to control his impulses.

      I really believe teaching focus is the first step. If there’s no focus, you won’t be able to do anything to calm your boy in situations like you’ve described above. It’s a process and it takes time, but it works. And the results are long lasting. And he’s already proven to you that he’s super smart and learns quickly.

      So, start with focus, then move on to desensitizing and reconditioning and then your boy will be in the right head space to learn the rules of engagement with other dogs. There’s a link in the article to the steps on desensitizing and reconditioning too.

      Please feel free to come back here and ask questions as you’re going through this training. I’m happy to help.


  • Clare

    I have a 13 week old pup and she is biting non stop. I’ve tried yelping and moving away, letting my hand go still and also saying no and ignoring for a short while. Nothing seems to work. She is getting to be a big girl now and her mouthing hurts a lot. Apart from this she is amazing. Sits, lies down, gives paw and rings the bell to go out. Any advice on how I can stop the biting would be wonderful

    • Hi Clare,

      At 13 weeks your pup is still a baby and biting is natural. But it’s good that you want to get it under control before she grows into a large and powerful dog. Please check out this article on biting. It describes 4 games you can use to teach your pup that biting limbs is off limits.

  • Hello
    We recently adopted a GSD. We have had her for 3 weeks now. She is 5 years old. Her name is Betty. She is EVERYTHING and then some that we wanted in our adopted new family member.

    I’m home with her the majority of the time, and I do the majority of the walking, feeding and obviously I spend a lot of time with her. Betty listens well. She came trained. She knows basic commands and listens for the most part. There are a few questions I have; First, at times when she is laying down, she completely ignores me or anyone in the family when we call her name. She doesn’t even move her head to look at us. Is there something I/we can do to get her attention, or is this just her wanting to rest?

    Betty also does not like small dogs, there is zero tension on the leash when I walk her. I’m working with her to walk by my side and not ahead of me, however she was an outside dog for the most part, and walking on a leash was not something she did easily. However, when we come across small dogs, she is so focused on the small dog. I keep moving along and I use the same commands with her. If she tugs a bit, I give her a quick tug and tell her “easy”, then she slows back, but I’d like to know what I can do when we come across small Dogs? She seems to be completely focused on the small dog and I give her another tug and use the command “move along”, she will move along but then always looks back and I have to say the command about 4-5 times but by that time the small dog has passed. How do I get her to not be so focused on small dogs? Betty does not have this behavior with bigger dogs unless the other dog starts barking and going crazy. I can see the other dog owners feed in to this behavior with their dog, but I don’t want Betty to have the same behavior. If the other dog moves along, Betty moves along.

    So my questions would be: how do we get her to listen when she is called? How do we get her to not be so focused on small dogs, and how do I keep her moving along if another dog is barking and growling at her/us? And lastly, how do I get her to walk by my side?

    I’m finding your website helpful and very interesting.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Niki!

      Betty sounds like a lovely girl! You’re blessed that she came trained, this is especially true for older dogs that mostly lived outside.

      Although German Shepherds are highly trainable, they are also well known for their aloof nature. Both my German Shepherds, Charley and Zè can be aloof at times. I find it’s usually during the hottest times of the day, after a very physical game of fetch or tug and after they’ve had their evening meal. But sometimes it’s just because they want to rest, just like you say.

      Some people see this as a bad thing, but I don’t think it’s bad at all. In this respect I think dogs are a lot like us. I mean, if my phone rings while I’m chilling and I don’t want to speak to someone, I just let it ring through to voicemail. So, as long as Betty is responding to recalls and most other times you have nothing to worry about.

      In terms of her fixation on small dogs, the quickest and easiest way to break her focus is to turn and walk in the opposite direction. So basically start (start your walk), stop (stop when you cross paths with a small dog and she reacts), change direction (immediately change direction). Once you’ve changed direction and walked a few steps and she’s no longer focused on the smaller dog, give her a few food rewards. Another thing I’d suggest is not to tug back on the leash when she pulls. Although it might work in the short term, dogs usually pull harder. So here, the start, stop, change direction is also a good method.

      Heeling is pretty easy if Betty is already walking lose leash. If she’s not, the start, stop, change direction and not pulling back on her leash will make that happen over time. For the heel training keep a short leash and Betty on the side you want her to walk. Pick a side and stick to it. This method will keep her close to you for heeling. Pay her with food rewards for keeping by your side. If she pulls ahead, withold rewards, stop and change direction. Then try again. When she’s reliably heeling you can start adding the cue ‘heel’. Once she’s heeling to the cue you need to phase out rewards. It’s important to do this as soon as she’s reliable or she’ll begin to expect treats and she won’t heel unless there are rewards.

      To get more info on phasing out rewards and also how Betty learns check out my article on how dogs learn. It’s long but worth the read.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions, I’m happy to help.

      Chat soon.

  • Rick


    I’m so happy I just came across your website!

    I’m new to owning German Shepherds and my girl Tinker is 6 months old. She does this thing where she ignores me flat – like I don’t exist.

    I can see her ears moving to listen to the sound of my voice, but she doesn’t respond my coming to me or even looking at me.

    I’m staring to think she does it on purpose. What can I do?


    • Hi Rick,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Well, it sounds like Tinker has the typical aloof trait that they are well known for. Although their aloofness is usually towards strangers, they can exhibit this with their owners too.

      There are a whole bunch of reasons Tinker could be doing this…

      GSD’s are highly intelligent and fast learners.

      She might just be tired after a long day of play and training.
      Also, if you’re not using a variable reward structure during training she’ll quickly learn that when you have no rewards for her she won’t respond. That’s not her doing it on purpose though.
      If you’ve over used a command, it becomes meaningless and this will cause Tinker to ignore it.

      What you’re experiencing is the subject of part two of the ‘Why is my German Shepherd not listening’ series.

      I’ll drop you a heads up here when it’s available for reading.

      Chat soon,

    • Diana Diaz

      Hi imhaveing the same problem with Lizzir . She knows all the commands , very smart , but will not come every time I tell her to.

    • Gabriella

      Hi Diana,

      Thank you for your comment.

      This could very well be due to overarousal and Lizzir not focusing. It could also be due to your recall needing more training, proofing, and generalizing.

      But without knowing more details, it’s difficult to say what part of the process needs more attention. Feel free to share more specifics and I’ll be happy to help.

  • mary

    Hi I have a one year old male German shepherd he has mastered basic training his recall is great pulling on lead is getting there slowly.
    However he is braking at visitors to the home and also people in street/cafes etc who approach us he will calm down after a while but it can be quiet alarming and not behaviour we want. Do you have any ideas on this. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks

    • Hi Mary!

      Thanks for sharing your situation here.

      Let me just say that recall is one of the most difficult habits to teach a dog. And the fact that your boy is so reliable confirms what you already know. He’s a bright boy!

      From what you’ve described I can tell your boy crosses his threshold in situations where people enter into what he considers his personal space. Just like humans, dogs also have a ‘bubble’ around them which they feel safe in. His trigger is people entering his ‘bubble’.

      Chaos could also be a trigger. You might not experience the situations in which he has a barking session as chaotic, but your German Shepherd might.

      Spend some time to really understand the threshold and trigger concepts in this article. This knowledge will help you in all situations to know what’s going on inside your boy’s head. And it’ll be easier for you to identify triggers in his life.

      You don’t say whether he’s intact or not, but sometimes intact males can exhibit more territorial behavior than say a neutered male or a female.

      Don’t be discouraged, you can work with this and help your boy be more comfortable and confident in these kinds of situations. It will take time. And you will need the help of friends, family and eventually strangers.

      First, I have to ask whether you are trying to shush him up when he starts barking? If you are, your first step is to stop. Trying to quiet him down in the middle of a barking session will not stop him. And, it also reinforces his behavior.

      In a situation where you’re working to recondition a behavior taking a few steps back is the best move you can make. In this case, taking a few steps back will be starting right back in your home.

      Here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes…

      First thing is to help your boy become comfortable with guests visiting your home.
      Next thing would be to get him comfortable with passing people just outside your home.
      After that the dog park.
      And then only start exposing him to more challenging situations like at a cafe, a busy high street or even a bus or the underground.

      This is called desensitizing and counter conditioning – using treats as rewards.

      Start by asking a friend or family member to get involved in his training. Set up a training session where your chosen person will come over for a visit.
      You’ve got to know exactly when and what triggers your boy.
      Is it the sound of tyres on the gravel driveway?
      Or the opening gate?
      Is it the sound of footsteps? Is it the sound of the doorbell or a knock at the door?

      Whichever it is, that’s the trigger you should start desensitizing your dog to.

      It’s useful to keep in contact with the visitor via your mobile. You need to know exactly when that trigger is coming.

      And your timing must be perfect. If you offer treats when he’s given even one bark, you’re rewarding him for barking.

      Before your boy even thinks about barking or growling offer him treats. Because you’re desensitizing him offer a bunch of rewards at a time.

      Keep doing this until he’s totally comfortable with the sound that triggers it all. You might need to do this over a week or weeks. Depending on how quickly he becomes comfortable.

      Next get your visitor to come inside. Here a nice trick is to give your guest treats to reward your boy for allowing him/her into the house without barking.

      Once he’s comfortable with that the next step is to go outside. Preferably just outside your house on the pavement.

      Ask a few friends or family to walk towards you and your dog as though they are strangers. Again keep focused on his body language and facial expressions. Before he even thinks about barking offer him treats.

      Keep doing this until he’s happy and comfortable with people walking up to you and him.

      The method will be the same as you move to more and more challenging situations.

      I’d like to suggest you read this article and concentrate on how to get your boy to show you which treat he values the most. Use those in this training. Also, have a look at the graphic on desensitizing and counter conditioning in this article.

      If you have any more questions just come back here and leave them in the comments. I answer within 12 hours. And I’d love to know how you get on. So please share your experience here too.

      Chat soon,

  • Heidi


    I am trying to get my GSP use to riding in my truck she is 5months on the 21st and drools heavy what do u suggest? She loves ice I’ve been slowly getting her use to the riding started 5days not running the truck then a few running & not driving then and now driving keeping her in a doggy seat belt. Still heavy drooling. I can’t wait till she loves riding with us. Tia and her name is Daisy ?

    • Hi Heidi!

      Thanks for sharing your situation here.

      It sounds like Daisy has a case of motion sickness.

      Just like us humans, some dogs have it and some don’t.

      You’re definitely on the right track with your method of conditioning her.

      The trick with any dog training is to take really small steps, as you are doing now. But at the same time if you see she’s struggling, then take a few steps back and go forward even slower. So take what you’re doing now and break it down into even smaller steps.

      It’s especially helpful with motion sickness to go real slow.

      So for example, just spend a week backing in and out of your driveway with Daisy in your truck.

      Then move on to driving just to the end of your road for a few weeks.

      Then take it further to a drive around the corner to the next stop and back for a few weeks.

      Then try a drive around the block once a day for a few weeks.

      Let me know how you get on with this, if you’ve got questions just come back here and leave them in the comments. I always answer within 12 hours.

      Good luck, and say ‘hi’ to Daisy from me. 🙂

  • Delisa Merritt

    He doing really good with set,heal,lay. But I can’t stop him from jumping on us, and herding us. I’ve tried blocking him, walking against walls so he can’t go around me. I’ve tried the knee when he jumps. Help.

    • Hi Delisa,

      Thank you for sharing your situation here.

      Jumping up is a behavior that can mostly be attributed to a dog crossing his threshold. You don’t say in what kind of scenarios he jumps but he might be excited to see you, visitors, a toy or food.

      I know some trainers promote the methods you mentioned but in my opinion none of them work to resolve the issue – as you have experienced for yourself. It’s only no-force, positive reinforcement will get to the root and resolve it.

      Dealing with jumping needs an article all of its own, but here’s how I think you should work with your boy…

      The key is to teach your GSD all 4’s on the floor. You want to avoid him jumping. But if he does jump, turn your body away from him. Turn your face away too. Walk away if you can. And give him no attention until all his paws are firmly on the ground.

      But ideally you want to stop the jumping before it happens.

      So, until your boy is 100% reliable in not jumping I suggest you carry a bunch of treats around with you. Each time you are near your dog and he has all 4’s on the floor, drop a few treats. He has to be standing firm on the ground to eat the treats – which reinforces him to keep his paws on the ground. You can do this if he’s walking or standing next to you or at any time you see him standing firmly on the ground.

      If your boy jumps when he’s happy to see you, sees toys or food you need to anticipate the jump before it happens. So even before he thinks about jumping you should be ready with treats. Watch his body language and facial expressions. You’ll know when he’s about to jump. Make sure he has all 4’s on the floor and drop some treats.

      If you treat him even if he has one paw of the ground you’ll be rewarding his jumping – so be mindful of this.

      Get started with this as soon as possible because your boy is going to grow into a large strong adult. Please reply here with any questions you have once you get started with the training.

      Chat soon,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *